I remember stepping out the door the first morning of living in suburbia Hannan, Japan like it was yesterday. It was so humid that the air reeked with water from the ocean, people, and the random rain forests that seemed to wind their way through the little neighborhoods and up into the mountains. Little did I know, stepping out that intricate glass door, that I would be waltzing into a world different from anything I had ever known.
It all started with the old man on the beach. At around lunch time, my Japanese companion and I were taking a nice bike-ride past the beach. We had been visiting every hospital in the town that day, trying to find a man whose information everyone refused to entrust us with. However, with the beautiful weather and the casual breeze from the sea to keep us cool, our rotten luck in finding our friend didn't really affect us. At least, not until we ran into the old man.
As we rounded a natural bend in the side-walk, we came to an abrupt stop at a red light. That's when I first saw him... The toothless little old man peered at us, squinting from in the blazing sun. Without any warning, he enthusiastically started waving his arms and yelling indiscreet words at the top of his lungs.
Realizing that we were the only other people on the street, I became a little concerned... What was this total stranger doing waving at us in the first place? I was taken aback when the old man victoriously raised the objects in his hands to show them off to us. In one hand, glinting in the light, was a gigantic spear that looked comically too-big for such a little man to be carrying, but what was in the other hand threw me off even more.
"Gaijin! Sore ha tako da! Sawatte kudasai!!!" (Hey foreigner! This is an octopus! Come feel it!!!) The strangeness of it all took a suddenly gripped me as I apprehensively asked my friend, "Why is he asking me to feel his octopus? Should I touch that thing? Why does he even want me to touch that?!" Sister U. lightly laughed and made a comment about how I should respect elderly folks' wishes. So without further ado, I trudged towards the neon orange net, weary of the gigantic tentacles and glazed over octopus’s eyes that lurked inside the old-man's bag. Slowly, trying not to process what it was I was about to do, I reached out and touched the octopus.
Before I could even register how odd our situation was, the old man laughed and hopped about from foot to foot in glee, ranting to himself about how the octopus was now "lucky." Then, without further ado, he waddled away without another word.
That was the first of many times while living in Japan where it hit me that I was "Not in Kansas anymore." Let alone the conservative, sheltered, middle-of-nowhere place that was my hometown in Utah.